LAS is an award-winning provider of elearning consultancy, design, development and training services in the UK and internationally.
Established in 2005 as LearningAge Solutions, we work with some of the best known organisations in the world to boost their performance through the innovative use of learning technologies. Working in partnership with our customers, we draw on proven principles from human behaviour, how people learn and how the brain works to create impactful digital learning solutions with real return on investment.
Tess is a director of LAS. She has worked in a learning environment for over fifteen years. First, as a senior manager in universities, moving into digital learning seven years ago.
By Tess Robinson
Posted 28 November 2016
We live in a world full of noise. So many things are competing for our attention. How do you get past that noise to create a space for learning?
At a recent learning conference, I noticed the proliferation of stands for companies specialising in mindfulness. The previous year, there hadn’t been any. It’s easy to dismiss mindfulness as just a trendy concept, just the latest thing, another distraction - but is there something in it that us learning and performance professionals should take note of?
Mindfulness originated in Buddhist thinking and meditation practices. In the last 30 or so years, it has become secularised and simplified. It involves bringing your attention into the present moment, usually by finding a quiet space, sitting comfortably and focussing on your breath. The idea being, that this brings you calm and focus in a busy world. It’s also credited with reducing anxiety and stress and increasing creative thought and innovation.
There is some scientific evidence to back up these assertions. In 2011, Harvard University was involved in a study to determine whether mindfulness training had an effect on the density of grey matter in the brain. Their results found that there was a significant positive correlation. This has since been confirmed by a team of scientists from the University of British Columbia and the Chemnitz University of Technology who pooled data from more than 20 studies to determine which areas of the brain are consistently affected. In particular, they found positive changes to the anterior cingulate-cortex (ACC) which is associated with the ability to purposefully direct attention and behaviour as well as with learning from past experience. It was also shown to have a positive effect on the size of the hippocampus, which is associated with emotion and memory. Interesting stuff!
Mindfulness is already being used in schools to improve behaviour and to create a positive environment for learning. If you have 20 minutes there is an interesting TEDx talk on mindfulness in schools by Richard Burnett. There’s a mindfulness exercise you can try yourself at 4:25 mins. One school in the US is also using mindfulness instead of detention and their results have been impressive.
How can we apply all this to adult learning? We know that people learn best when they’re in a flow state, exactly the kind of state that mindfulness helps bring about. Here are some ideas for bringing mindfulness techniques to our learning:
1. Make time – book out learning time in your calendar
2. Make space – go to a different location, preferably a quiet one – a side office, home, a quiet coffee shop. Somewhere where you are less likely to fall into normal patterns of
3. Remove distractions – turn off your phone, shut down your email and your web browser.
4. Notice what time of day you’re at your most receptive and schedule learning time for then. Are you a morning person? Do you feel brighter after lunch? Last thing on a Friday is probably not ideal for anyone.
5. Learn a couple of mindfulness techniques and use them to clear your head at any time. Here’s a 10 minute (or longer if you like) ‘mindfulness of breath’ exercise from The Free Mindfulness Project – enjoy!
Sit or lie in a comfortable position. You may close your eyes or just keep them open.
Begin by gently moving your attention onto the process of breathing. Notice the sensations of each breath as it happens, whether you focus on the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen or on the feeling of the breath at the nostrils. Really feel what it is like to breath, just observing it as it happens.
You may find your mind wanders, caught up by thoughts or noises in the room, or bodily sensations. When you notice that this happens, know that this is OK, and simply notice the distraction but gently bring your attention back to the breath.
Ending the exercise:
Take a few moments to yourself, connecting with your experience in the present moment. Expand your awareness from the breath into the space around you, and as you feel comfortable to do so, open your eyes and bring the exercise to a close.
Take a few moments to think about what your experience was in this exercise and how you feel in the present moment.